Consumerism is the core issue. Both that and individualism in society so here’s a few things that the bible says.
The solution to these problems lie in a total transformation of attitudes and lives.
The prayer of our hearts is what Paul says in Romans 2 – the renewing of your minds transforms so we don’t conform to the society of which we’re a part.
As Christians we largely conform and as long as we do that we won’t make inroads into these issues.
Start by thinking about God’s character.
1 Samuel 2
‘he raises the poor from the dust, he lifts the needy from the ash heap’
The God we serve is concerned for the poor and needy.
All the way through his relationship with Israel God is concerned for justice, the poor and his own character to be lived out in the community of his people. He cares for the poor and is concerned for justice in the world.
Seen in the Commandments – he commands his people to be generous so that the world might see his character. There is contention about the role of the law in the context of the new covenant but not everything.
When God gives his law to the people in Deuteronomy 4:6 it’s in order to live out in a way that represents a God of justice and righteousness.
And how do we then reflect that as church? If this represents God character how are we living it out to our needy world?
Deuteronomy 15 God speaks of generosity and open handedness to the poor. We see a summary of what God expects:
If anyone is poor among your people…do not be hard hearted…but be open handed… There will always be poor people so I command you to be open handed…
There’s an emphasis that all that’s done is for the benefit of the poor in the land. It’s ultimately for the benefit of the poor – do what you can to help them out.
Yes you expect loans to be paid back but there’s a generosity. One of those is the concept of the Sabbath year – every seventh year there will be a cancellation of debt. And there’s to be an attitude of generosity.
Deuteronomy 15:9 – God sees the danger that they look at the seventh year and think I won’t lend but says whether or not you get it back you still lend to the person in need.
Not just cancellation of debt but the leaving of fields fallow – consumerism causes us to exploit and ravage resources for everything. Here’s a model that says every 7 years you allow it to recover and let it recovery.
There’s also the freeing of slaves and servants every 7 but with real generosity. When you release them don’t leave them emptyhanded bit be generous and if they want to stay then let them and if it’s to leave you give them more than they deserve.
Beyond that the year of Jubilee where everything else plus the returning of land to the people who had it in the first place. No building of land owning clans in Israel because they were to give it back. Whether that happened or not it’s God’s intention.
Leviticus 25:17 do not take advantage of each other
And verse 23 the land must not be sold permanently because the land is mine.
We need the attitude that the world is the Lord’s and everything in it. That we are custodians, not owners.
Loans should be interest free
Gleaning laws say they should be sloppy farmers so that everyone who hasn’t can have something to live from allow the poor to gain from your riches.
Clearly the people of Israel expected prosperity, particularly materially. Important to recognise the promise is to have enough. The aspiration for enough collectively. It’s not about individual plenty but communal sufficiency.
A sense of bias to the poor.
Why should we do that? Because that is God’s character so I want you to be like me. Israel living like this demonstrates to others the character of God to the world around them.
Move from Old Testament and covenant into the New Testament and Jesus is the call to the church anything else?
The same things are demonstrated by the new community of God. The same sort of generosity and care for the needy is throughout the New.
Famous passages in Acts 2 and Acts 4 are incredible for their challenge about what community and collective living looks like. They gave their possessions over to one another. And there was not a needy person among them.
Because great grace was on them all – God’s life was working in their lives and as they sought him and he turned up their reaction was radical generosity. So they let go of what they owned for the good of each other.
Now it’s the holy spirit, grace and character of God changing his people from the inside out rather than following an external set of laws.
2 Corinthians 8 and 9 shouts of the desire for fairness and equality amongst God’s people. Paul says our desire is not that others are relived while others are hard pressed but that there’s quality… The one who gathers much did not have too much, the who gathers too little did not have too little.
Paul points to the manna in the wilderness which satisfied on a daily basis. There was total equality and no way of storing things up. It’s radical and challenging.
The second thing Paul says is that our response as the Church must be great generosity on the basis of God’s grace working in our lives.
How can you see God? Because of their enormous generosity. And God is faithful to that – you will be made rich in every way so you can be generous on every occasion.
He doesn’t want to play down our role in serving and giving to the world but there’s a real importance placed on the model of living within the church to provide that example of living differently to the world.
Until as a church we live in a distinctive way from the world how can we give real answers to the world? It’s only when we live in this different way that we have credibility and show the world something different. Are we a church of real authentic relationship or a club who thinks similarly but when it comes down to it lives the same?
So that’s our corporate responsibility but what has Jesus got to say about consumerism, money and everything else.
The fundamental question of life is how can I be happy? What is the good life? How do I gain contentment in my life?
We look in the wrong place so easily and we don’t find happiness but convince ourselves that if we had more, or a better type, then we would have happiness. So we keep buying them and looking for them but we know that it doesn’t work.
Jesus has his finger on this in parable of the sower. Mark 4. Jesus says ‘wealth is deceitful’.
The wealth that we have is deceitful and distorts our perspective so we don’t see things as they are but in an untrue way.
Mammon is anything that you look to for security as money etc and Jesus says you can’t serve that and God.
In the rich fool in Luke 12 Jesus speaks to the guy interested in storing up possessions for he future and says, you’re a fool because tonight you’ll die. He’s obsessed be his wealth and himself – selfish and individualistic who revolves around building up more for himself for the future. He has taken his eyes from eternity to mortality. He is focused entirely on this world and this life.
The parable echoes ‘watch out, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ which is how Jesus kicks off that chapter.
If we fall into that trap we become obsessed with the hunt for more and we lose spiritual insight and spiritual reality.
In Matthew 6 we return to the question – is it all about them? The fault of big business, of government, of The Church, of the poor? Or do we need to look at ourselves.
You can’t serve both so choose your master – Matthew 6.
As we gain obsession of the material we lose sight of God but look at what Jesus says about not serving God or money: Therefore, do not be anxious about food and clothing etc. Seek first God’s kingdom.
The more we worry, the less able to serve God we are because priorities and goals are distorted.
Matthew 6:25 onwards. Does that reflect the Church, our church, our personal walk with God or are we far from that place?
Much of this comes down to the subject of desire – Jesus wanted to warn us about the dangers of wealth. He says Luke 18 – you lack one thing, give everything away and you’ll have me because that’s what you need. Wealth makes it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God because our perspective becomes so distorted that we lose sight of the important. Pursuing that means you’re less likely to pursue God.
We fill our lives with so much that we don’t give God the time and space. That’s a truth of our wealth. How can we share the good news with the world if we don’t believe God delivers on his promise. If we don’t live like it’s truth why would anyone believe?
James 4 is all about how wrong desires lead to brokenness in the world.
When in John 6 Jesus talks about being the bread of life it’s just after they’ve been fed. Jesus responds by saying you don’t need bread, you need me. I will satisfy.
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased
That’s a quote from CS Lewis which Al finished off with.